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Buyer's guide: aero cycling kit for time trials

Turn you and your road bike into an aero speed combo

There is something about going fast that excites us. Perhaps it’s that feeling of ground rush, or getting somewhere in a hurry, or maybe it’s just the thrill of beating others!

It’s not just us, though – all of these are big drivers for many other cyclists. If that sounds like you, then you need to give time-trialling a go – just you against the clock riding as fast as you possibly can.

But how do you achieve that speed? There’s no substitute for hard work and training, but that can only take you so far.

If you’ve ever been riding along gently and thought, ‘I could go much faster than this,’ the obvious response is to increase your effort.

However, you’ll soon realise that the faster you go, the more effort you have to put in for ever smaller gains. This is due to the resistance of aerodynamic drag, or to put it another way, the effort it takes to push your bike and body forwards, displacing those almost imperceptible particles of air around you.

Physics tells us that air resistance goes up exponentially with speed, so it’s hardly a surprise that going fast feels like such hard work.

In fact, once you get above 15mph, by far the majority of what slows you down is aerodynamic drag. To put it simply, cut wind resistance and you’ll go quicker.

This is why serious time-triallists spend thousands on kit, for those small gains that can shave off a second here or there in pursuit of that PB.

You could do the same, emptying your wallet on the latest high-tech TT machine, but we reckon you’re better off converting your current bike and gear to see how you like the ‘race of truth’ first.

A few well-chosen products can make a big difference to your speed and need not cause financial distress in the process.

We’ve broken the elements down into those we recommend you wear and those your bike wears, so that you’ll know what to look out for whether you genuinely fancy giving TT a crack or just want an edge on your mates!

Wearable aero cycling kit

Since seven eighths of aerodynamic drag is created by the rider rather than the bike, it makes sense to concentrate on the rider first, and we have some great news for you: you can cut your drag and go faster for relatively little outlay.

One of the easiest wins is swapping an open, flappy jacket in winter or baggy summer shorts for close-fitting Lycra. It’s one of the main reasons we use Lycra clothing – it reduces surface area and shouldn’t flap in the wind.

Beyond that, there are four main areas where the right choice of clothing can make a useful difference to your speed: feet, hands, body and head.

Cycling shoes are generally pretty minimal but straps, buckles and vents disrupt airflow over them, so a simple set of tight-fitting aero booties can smooth out any lumps and bumps to allow air to pass more easily – as well as keeping your shoes clean.

Likewise, your hands are exposed to a lot of airflow so gloves that don’t feature unnecessary add-ons can help the airflow over the wrist and arm.

1. Overshoes

Sportful Lycra Overshoes | Buy now from Amazon for £10.96

VeloToze Overshoes | Buy now from Merlin Cycles for £13.99

2. Mitts

Castelli Aero Speed gloves

GripGrab Aero TT gloves | Buy now from Wiggle for £31.50

Catching the vast majority of the wind as a cyclist is your body. Sadly, some of us catch more than our fair share but losing weight is a whole other matter. The right clothing can help, though, specifically a one-piece skinsuit.

Originally just thin, tight fabric, these days they are wind-tunnel developed and will cut your drag very effectively.

Lastly, the head. Even before cycling helmets became the norm, time-triallists would wear an aerodynamic shell to smooth airflow over the head and onto the back and shoulders.

These days, manufacturers have created truly slippery shapes for everyday riding as well as ones specifically suited to time-trials, so your choice will depend on how seriously you wish to take your riding.

3. Skinsuits

Lusso Active Aero speedsuit

Castelli SanRemo 3.2 speedsuit | Buy now from Tredz for £150.00

4. Helmets

Specialized Airnet | Buy now from Hargroves Cycles for £60.00

Giro Synthe | Buy now from Merlin Cycles for £99.00

Endura D2Z Aeroswitch | Buy now from Cyclestore for £299.99

Rideable aero cycling kit

Fitting a set of time-trial-specific handlebars is the easiest way to go quicker on any bike. That’s because they allow you to get your back and shoulders lower, placing your arms out in front, thereby narrowing your shoulders and reducing your frontal area, creating an aero bow wave for you to ride into.

While a proper time trial bike will have specific aero-profiled bars, a simple set of clip-on extensions will bring the biggest part of the benefits without meaning massive adaption of your bike. If you get a set with a place to lean your forearms, you can hold the tucked position for longer.

If you’re going to adopt a more laid-out position, your hips are going to change angle too, rotating forwards, and most riders find this means they need an appropriate saddle that will allow for this. For some, this means raising the rear of the saddle, some find they need a cut-out and others will prefer the whole front of the saddle to be done away with for it to be comfortable.

5. Aero bars

Token Alloy Aero extension bars | Buy now from Merlin Cycles for £40.49

Profile Design T3 Plus Aluminium aerobar

6. Saddles

Specialized Power Expert | Buy now from Evans Cycles for £60.75

ISM PL 1.1 | Buy now from Wiggle for £97.00

Pro Condor | Buy now from ProBikeKit for £25.49

After the rider, the front wheel is the next biggest inducer of drag, but be wary of budget ‘aero’ wheels with deep rims that actually haven’t been fully developed in a wind tunnel (not just tested in a wind tunnel). It’s worth looking into a manufacturer’s spec and not just assuming that deeper is better.

When it comes to tyres, we’re yet to be convinced of the aero claims made by some manufacturers but a fast, low-rolling-resistance set of tyres is always a good thing when racing. Some companies make specific time-trial models but in essence, the better the quality of your tyres, the more supple they will be and the faster you’ll go.

7. Wheels

Easton EC 90 Aero 55

Hunt Carbon Wide Aero

Zipp 30 Course | Buy now from Rutland Cycling for £209.99

8. Tyres

Continental Grand Prix TT | Buy now from ProBikeKit for £44.09

Zipp Tangente Speed | Buy now from Evans Cycles for £36.00

9. Training 

We could fill this feature plenty of times over if we were to go into the requirements of training for time-trials but the essence is you need to practise making the same sort of effort that you would make in an event.

So if it’s your local club 10 miler you wish to do, you need to be able to ride flat out for 10 miles. So using a turbo trainer or a flat route where you can ride that distance unimpeded, perform a functional threshold test.

Then practise riding slightly harder than that pace for shorter blocks of time to gradually build up your speed.

10. Getting involved

If time trial riding is the sort of thing you want to have a bash at then there are a couple of ways of getting involved. The sport in the UK comes under the governance of the RTTC.

Visit their website at cyclingtimetrials.org.uk to find out information about events local to you, as well as the rules.

We’d actually suggest that in the first instance you’ll probably find it easier to join a friendly local cycling club, many of which run regular time trials over the summer months.

These are much lower-key with cheap entry fees, so an easy starting point. There are hundreds all over the UK, see britishcycling.org.uk/clubs to find one local to you.

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